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Archive for August 14th, 2012

Social Media? It’s About The Numbers!

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 14 August 2012

More than 150 million Tweets about the Olympics over the past 16 days

According to the Twitter blog there were “more than 150 million Tweets about the Olympics over the past 16 days“. The post on went on to inform us that “it was the Spice Girls who stole the night, inspiring more than 116,000 Tweets per minute“. Meanwhile an article on “London 2012, a social media Olympics to remember” posted on the BBC Web site provided a visualisation of how UK-based fans tweeted the Games which is shown below. From this we can see that over there were over 40,000 tweets per hour during the opening ceremony. The web page explained how:

The data was collated by social media sentiment analysts at SoSoLimited in a project commissioned by EDF Energy. They collected tweets from Twitter users who had identified themselves as being from the UK, and monitored posts which mentioned a set of 29 TeamGB-related keywords such as “ennis”, “wiggins” and “London 2012″. The total number of tweets about the Games is far greater than the graph above represents, but SoSoLimited’s data gives a clear picture of Britain’s most exciting Games moments so far.

This doesn’t, however, tell us how many individuals tweeted and how many have started using Twitter during the Olympic Games. It would also be interesting to have a better understanding of the locations used: what proportion were tweeting from the Olympic venues or while watching the games on TV?

It is clear that Twitter has reached the mass market. It should also be clear that the numbers of tweets and of Twitter users are important. This is something to remember when you hear people say “The content is the important thing” or “Content is king“. Clearly the content of the 150 million tweets isn’t the important thing – “Oh no, it’s the Spice Girls :-(” – it is the scale of the communications which is significant.

Of course, we might say that the content is the important thing – and in this case the content is the Olympic Games: the 100 metres sprint, the 5,000 and 1o,000 metres and the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and, yes, even the Spice Girls. But if we are talking about communications channels, it tends to be the numbers which are a key feature, rather than the content of the channel.

Many Eyes Make All Bugs Shallow

This sentiment has been articulated by the open source community in Linus’s Law which is summarised as “Many Eyes Make All Bugs Shallow“. As described in a RedHat paper on OPEN SOURCE SECURITY: A LOOK AT THE SECURITY BENEFITS OF SOURCE CODE ACCESS (PDF formata entire section addresses “Strength in Numbers: The Security of “Many Eyeballs” and says:

The security benefits of open source software stem directly from its openness. Known as the “many eyeballs”theory,it explains what we instinctively know to be true – that an operating system or application will be more secure when you can inspect the code, share it with experts and other members of your user community,identify potential problems and create fixes quickly.

In this case the openness arises from open source licences. Similar arguments also apply to research papers and research data which are published under Creative Commons licences, with the argument being that such liberal licence conditions will make it easier for interested parties to read and cite or reuse content of interest.

In the case of social media, the benefits arise from the popularity of the service itself, rather than the openness of the technology delivering the service, as can be seen from the little use which is made of the identi.ca service which is positioned as an open alternative to Twitter. If you visit my profile you’ll see little activity since I joined in 2008. I suspect this is also true for others who bothered to sign up to the service – but I would like to be proven wrong.

Meanwhile, At Bath Folk Festival

The importance of numbers and metrics for social media extends beyond global events such as the Olympic Games. Last year in a post which argued that We Can’t Ignore Facebook I described use of Facebook and Twitter to promote the Bath Folk Festival. Facebook, it turned out, was much more popular than Twitter and so became the service which was used to promote events and to encourage discussion about the concerts and other events.

The post included a graph showing the growth in use of the Bath Folk Festival Facebook page. Unfortunately at first glance the findings do not appear to be comparable with those obtained last year. I am not yet in a position to answer questions such as:

  • Has Facebook usage grown since last year?
  • There are now 528 Followers of the @bathfolkfest Twitter account. How have the numbers grown since last year? Would it be more effective to use Twitter to promote events for this year’s Bathe Folk Festival and to encourage discussions to take place on Twitter?

I suspect that if I spend sometime looking at the Facebook Insights data for the page and Twitter analytics tools I’d be able to provide a better answer to such questions.

My conclusions from this post:

  • For social networks, numbers do matter
  • There is a need to continually monitor the numbers in order to detect trends which may inform policy decisions.

If you’ve also an interest in the content, I’d recommend the concert featuring Spiers & Boden, Bob & Gill Berry and Jon Hick – which should also feature a surprise rapper sword dancing team.

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